Toby Harshaw,Letters Editor THE NEW YORK TIMES New York, NY
Dear Mr. Harshaw,
Is it a mere coincidence, or does the New York Times habitually save up its worst examples of "yellow journalism" for Sunday editions, and stick them on the front page for all the world to see? Take this Sunday's piece by Jane Perlez, "Milosevic's Purges Hint at Violent End for Regime," (NYT Nov. 29, 1998), filed from Belgrade, Serbia. It's a classic case of trying to distort facts and manufacture falsehoods so as to make them fit the Times' editorial opinions.
In other words, print lies, instead of "all the news that's fit to print."
As the title of the subject article suggests, your story was about the Serbian neo-communist strongman, Slobodan Milosevic's firing last week of the chief of general staff of the Yugoslav Army, Gen. Momcilo Perisic. And about some earlier dismissals of high government officials.
Your first reference to Gen. Perisic, on the front page, was that he was "the long-serving army chief of staff and an architect of the war in Bosnia." Gen. Perisic wasn't even in Bosnia during that civil war. He withdrew from Croatia and Herzegovina to Serbia at the start of the Bosnian war, along with all JNA (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija - Yugoslav Peoples Army) officers and troops who were not originally from Bosnia or Croatia.
From May 1992, until he was appointed chief of general staff in August 1993, Gen. Perisic commanded the Third Army Group, whose territory covers Central Serbia, not Bosnia. Yet you continue to assault the truth later on in the same Sunday piece when you allege that Gen. Perisic "led the Yugoslav National Army during the atrocities in Bosnia."
Is your slander of him, therefore, a case of malice rather than just ignorance?
You even had Gen. Perisic born in Montenegro. Just like Dr. Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president, accused of war crimes during the Bosnian war. Is that why you're trying to tar Perisic with the same brush, the truth notwithstanding?
Well, one thing which even the Times cannot falsify with impunity is a man's place of birth. You may be interested to know that Gen. Perisic was born in the village of Kostunici, near Gornji Milanovac, a town in Central Serbia some 60 miles south of Belgrade. That's nowhere near Montenegro.
Furthermore, you may also be interested to know that Gen. Perisic was no "ordinary" general. He holds a degree in psychology from the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Belgrade. He speaks French, and can just as easily converse about literature and politics as he can about battlefield strategies. Yet he has earned his stars in battle, not by pushing paper at his desk.
Lest we forget, this is the same general who infuriated Milosevic and his "crimson red" communist wife, Mira Markovic, when he received rebellious students in the middle of the 88-days of pro-democracy demonstrations in Serbia in the winter of 1996-1997. As a professional soldier, Gen. Perisic felt it was his duty to keep the national army out of the political arena.
"They are all Serbs - the socialists, the democrats, the students, the right-wingers... the lot!" he told me in March 1997. "The Army must not (again) become a tool of a one-party regime."
Gen. Perisic demonstrated the same combination of smarts and guts when he refused Milosevic's order after the 1997 elections in Montenegro to deploy the Army on behalf of the defeated Milosevic's candidate (Bulatovic), and against Milo Djukanovic, also a former communist, but who has now become a western darling for opposing Milosevic.
Finally, Gen. Perisic "sinned" once again recently against the Milosevic-Markovic couple, whom your story correctly compared to Romania's Ceausescu pair, when he openly challenged Milosevic's Kosovo policy.
Yet, your article concludes after all of the above that, "what was surprising was General Perisic's decision to fight back." Which indicates that you don't know the first thing about the man you're writing about. So permit me to try to enlighten you, if I may. I enclose as a "P.S." some additional examples from Gen. Perisic's military career you may find illuminating. Or annoying, given your predisposition to lies.
Nevertheless, it is Gen. Perisic's smarts and guts that was the reason Milosevic removed him. Or at least try to, since the general has already hinted that we may not have heard the last word about his dismissal yet.
P.S. Before the war broke out after Croatia seceded from the former Yugoslavia in June 1991, Gen. Momcilo Perisic was commander of a JNA (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija - Yugoslav Peoples Army) artillery training center in Zadar, a picturesque city on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. The following story about happened in Zadar during a six-month siege of the army barracks, is based on what Gen. Perisic told me personally in a May 1994 meeting in Belgrade (see TRUTH IN MEDIA Bulletin 94-07, 7/01/94). Heres an excerpt from it:
Speak Softly, But Carry a Big Stick
By Bob Djurdjevic
BELGRADE, May 1994 - General Momcilo Perisic, chief of general staff of the Yugoslav Army, is a slight, soft-spoken man with deep, green eyes and unassuming manners. Although originally from Sumadija (Central Serbia), Perisic spent most of his military career in the so-called Fifth District of the now-defunct JNA. The area spans much of today's Croatia, including the Serb Krajina.
When Croatia and Slovenia unilaterally seceded from Yugoslavia, in late June 1991, Gen. Perisic was commander of the Zadar, Croatia, JNA outpost. General Ratko Mladic, the former military head of the Bosnian Serb army, held a similar post in the neighboring Knin, then the capital of the Serb Krajina.
The field commanders, Generals Perisic and Mladic (then both colonels), caught in the midst of what had suddenly become enemy territory (Croatia), had to fend for themselves. As a result, Perisic and Mladic ended up "saving each other" many times. Even more than the fact that the two generals were also classmates, this early war experience had bonded the respective leaders of the (new) armed forces of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian Serb Republic.
"We had to act on our own initiatives. We received no orders from the JNA Headquarters (in Belgrade)," Gen. Perisic recalled the early days of chaos and confusion in the former JNA. "Most of the time, one simply had to depend on one's own wits and those of our people," he said.
For example, during the six month-siege of the YU Army barracks in Zadar by the Croatian forces (in 1991), the Croatians had cut off the civilian telephone lines to the army post. "That caused us no military problems," Gen. Perisic said. "But it was important to me that my soldiers be able to talk to their families and not worry about their safety."
So, using the military telephone network, the army technicians were able to patch Gen. Perisics calls to the Croatian commanders. "I talked to the enemy all the time," he said. "I gave them a deadline by which they were to enable the civilian telephone lines, or else we would take appropriate action."
The deadline had passed. The Croatians did nothing. So Gen. Perisic ordered that the satellite dishes on the Zadar Post Office be blown up by his artillery.
They were. "I called the Croatian commander, and told him that the Post Office itself would be next. We got our telephone service back in a matter of minutes."
Even as Perisic negotiated for the final withdrawal of the JNA troops from Zadar, he demonstrated his resourcefulness and mental toughness. He said that he refused to have his soldiers leave their posts until all equipment was packed and loaded onto trucks. "So I had the 'ustashe' (i.e., the Croat enemy) do the loading of our gear for us."
On Oct. 7, 1991, the day celebrated back then as the JNA Artillery Day, Perisic ordered his units to start the break out of the Zadar siege. The Nov. 27, 1998 Belgrade Telegraf quotes him addressing his Zadar JNA troops as follows: "Get ready to take a lot of incoming (fire). While I am still of a sound body and mind, I have no intention of surrendering. But in the event that I go crazy, lose my mind and attempt to do it, I order you to kill me."
Evidently, that was not necessary. Gen. Perisic pulled all his troops out of the Zadar encirclement without a loss of a single life.
Gen. Perisic explained that he could not have done it without the support of his family. His elder son had stayed at his side in Zadar throughout the ordeal. And Gen. Perisic's wife told him at a time when the JNA officers, let alone their wives, were fleeing their posts enmasse in order to save their own lives, "don't do anything you or your sons would be ashamed of later on." She refused to leave Zadar until he practically had to order her out. Eventually, under protest, she and their younger son moved from Zadar to an apartment in Sarajevo.
After his withdrawal from Zadar, Gen. Perisic was posted to Mostar (Herzegovina). He met there a Croat who had served under him several years ago. The Croat was so grateful to the general for the way he had treated him, that he offered to help him with information about the Croatian military plans. At first, Gen. Perisic was suspicious. "We had to verify the information by surveillance flights," he said. But time after time, the informant was spot on.
The Croat also warned Gen. Perisic that his Croat enemies from Zadar were plotting to kill his family in Sarajevo. The general acted quickly and got his family out of Sarajevo on April 14, 1992. By that stage, the war in Bosnia was just over a week old. As it turned out, the general made it in the nick of time. The following day, the would-be Croat assassins burst into an empty Sarajevo apartment.
"It is ironic, isn't it, that one 'ustasha' tried to kill my family, and that another 'ustasha' saved them?" Gen. Perisic philosophized calmly.
No surprise there, except for those, like the New York Times reporters, who evidently didn't know that he also held a degree from the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Belgrade.
Also check out..."You Were Wrong About Gen. Perisic", "New York Times' Kosovo News Manipulation", "Plus, Another Kosovo News Cover-up", "Embarrassed About Such 'Serbs'," "Put the UN Justice on Trial", "Another Wall Street Bailout, Another Main Street Sellout", "Does WSJ Dance to Wall St. Bankers' Tunes?", "Clinton Fiddles While Milosevic Burns", "Let the Bombing Begin? Not!" , "What's Good for the Goose..." and "Journal's Rotten Apples" (Wall Street Journal); and "Stock buybacks: Wall St.'s Duping of Main St.", Business Week).